Just Another Story…?
Everyone loves a good story. Millions have enjoyed J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and millions more, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. The Bible has been described as ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. Many would agree, but rarely read it or think about it.
Deep down we long for a better experience of life and a certainty about the future. The question is, ‘Where can we find it?’
This was a key issue that confronted C.S. Lewis. Holding a triple first from Oxford in classics and philosophy and literature, Lewis’ atheism was challenged during his mid- to late-twenties. As he wrote in Mere Christianity: Atheism was too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we would never have found out that it has no meaning.
He began to ask: If God exists, was there a time when he had revealed himself to the world? With his deep understanding of literature, he asked whether the myths were really echoes of one true story.
Prompted by a remark from a colleague at Oxford, Lewis began to read the four Gospels. He noted particularly that, unlike the myths and stories of literature, that the accounts about Jesus of Nazareth were set in the context of history. Indeed, friends, such as JRR Tolkein, pointed out that Jesus’ resurrection was historical.
With these thoughts in mind come with me to the opening lines of the Gospel of Mark: The beginning of the gospel – the good news – of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1).
With these words Mark set the agenda for his writing. Mark wants to demonstrate to his readers that Jesus is the Christ, the Hebrew Messiah. He also wants us to know that this Jesus is the Son of God. At the outset we are introduced to an extraordinary idea: Jesus is both truly human and truly divine.
Despite what the voices of social media tell us, most people have an awareness that God is there. Yes, some people look at the world with all of its suffering and reject God outright. But most people still have a sneaking suspicion that He does exist. What they don’t like about the idea that God exists is that he might be an interferer and call everyone to account.
That said, many high-level research scientists through the ages have no problem with the idea of the existence of God. For example, Francis Collins, the scientific director of the US government’s Human Genome Project, said: “It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our instruction book, previously known only to God”.
Having a sense that God might exist is one thing. Believing that we can relate to God is another. But this is just what the Bible tells us – we can know God personally.
Imagine you wanted to get to know Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. You could try writing her a letter or calling Buckingham Palace. You could even try standing outside the gates of the Palace. The fact is that our only real chance to meet the Queen would be if she decided she wanted to meet us.
Yet, this is what the Bible is telling us that God has done in Jesus Christ. It tells us that God wants to meet us and that Jesus Christ is the one he’s chosen to make the introduction. And that is why Mark, and the other Gospel-writers, wrote their accounts of Jesus. They knew that getting to know Jesus Christ is the most important thing we can ever do.
Consider what we read in verse 9: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up from out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.
A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” They are similar words to those when Jesus was transfigured in front of three of his close followers on a mountain – described in Mark chapter 9. But there is a very significant difference. God’s words on that mountain, were addressed to the disciples. Here they are addressed to Jesus.
God’s words on both occasions echo the introduction of God’s servant that we find in Isaiah chapter 42 – the servant who would suffer and die for the sins of the people. The words at Jesus’ baptism also echo Psalm 2 verse 7 where God greets the Messianic King as his Son.
Jesus would have understood immediately what God the Father was confirming about the relationship between them. He is uniquely God’s eternal Son and as such he had a mission to fulfil here on earth. The journey that was beginning here for Jesus at the River Jordan was going to finish at Golgotha with a sacrifice more far-reaching than the sacrifice that Abraham had been about to make. This time the Father in the narrative would be God himself.
Did it all happen? Or was it all just another story?
Historians in the 1st century, such as Tacitus and Josephus, confirm that Jesus lived and died. Josephus also records that Jesus’ followers saw him physically alive following the crucifixion. Accounts such as these have convinced many throughout the centuries – including CS Lewis.
The Bible invites us into its narrative, beginning with the creating act of God and ending with God gathering us into a life of great beauty that stretches into eternity. It is the story of God’s action in cleaning up the mess we have made of the world and ourselves.
When did you last read the Gospel of Mark? Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? Have you turned to him and become part of the story?